The decade of war to come

“In operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, a failure to recognise, acknowledge and accurately define the operational environment led to a mismatch between forces, capabilities, missions and goals,” reads a new draft report by the Pentagon’s Joint Staff.

In Decade of War: Enduring Lessons from the Past Decade of Operations, the authors admit to failures in Iraq and Afghanistan and lay out a series of lessons for the future, including more effective efforts aimed at winning hearts and minds, integrating regular troops and special operations forces, coordination with other government agencies, coalition operations, partnering with the forces of host-nations and paying greater attention to the use of proxy forces.

The report has created a buzz in military circles and has been hailed as offering new insights, but the move away from ruinous large-scale land wars to a new hybrid method of war-fighting, call it “the Obama formula”, has been evident for some time. For the past several years, the US has increasingly turned to special operations forces working not only on their own but also training or fighting beside allied militaries (if not outright proxy armies) in hot spots around the world.

Under President Obama, operations on the continent have accelerated far beyond the limited interventions of the Bush years:

  • Last year’s war in Libya;
  • A regional drone campaign with missions run out of airports and bases in Djibouti, Ethiopia and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles;
  • A flotilla of 30 ships in that ocean supporting regional operations; a multi-pronged military and CIA campaign against militants in Somalia, including intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, secret prisons, helicopter attacks, and US commando raids;
  • Amassive influx of cash for counterterrorism operations across East Africa;
  • A possible old-fashioned air war, carried out on the sly in the region using manned aircraft;
  • Tens of millions of dollars in arms for allied mercenaries and African troops;
  • A special ops expeditionary force (bolstered by State Department experts) dispatched to help capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders, operating in Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the Central African Republic (where US Special Forces now have a new base);
  • And a mission by elite Force Recon Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 (SPMAGTF-12) to train soldiers from the Uganda People’s Defense Force, which supplies the majority of troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia only begins to scratch the surface of Washington’s fast-expanding activities in the region

And along with those special ops advisers, trainers and commandos, ever more resources are flowing into the militarisation of spying and intelligence, the use of drone aircraft is proliferating, cyber-warfare is on the rise, as are joint operations between the military and increasingly militarised “civilian” government agencies.

The Obama administration has, in fact, doubled down again and again on this new way of war – from Africa to the Greater Middle East to South America – but what looks today like a recipe for easy power projection that will further US interests on the cheap could soon prove to be an unmitigated disaster – one that likely won’t be apparent until it’s too late.

The US war in Pakistan is a veritable poster-child for the Obama formula. Beginning as a limited drone assassination campaign backed by limited cross-border commando raids under the Bush administration, US operations in Pakistan have expanded into something close to a full-scale robotic air war, complemented by cross-border helicopter attacks, CIA-funded “kill teams” of Afghan proxy forces, as well as boots-on-the-ground missions by elite special operations forces, including the SEAL raid that killed Osama bin Laden.

Accelerating under Obama

The CIA has conducted clandestine intelligence and surveillance missions in Pakistan, too, though its future role may be less important, thanks to Pentagon mission-creep. In April, Secretary of Defence Leon Panetta announced the creation of a new CIA-like espionage agency within the Pentagon named the Defence Clandestine Service (DCS). According to the Washington Post, its aim is to expand “the military’s espionage efforts beyond war zones”. Pakistan is a probable candidate for future deployment of DCS operatives. Africa is also likely to see an influx of Pentagon spies in the coming years.

Interestingly, Decade of War devotes space to decrying the use of proxies by adversaries and suggests that the Pentagon team with State Department diplomats and US spies to break up sponsor/proxy relationships and disrupt financing networks. As the report puts it, the military must “oppose proxies and surrogates through a global campaign that combines direct action and law enforcement with indirect approaches that address the factors that fuel support for terrorism”. Proxies are, however, also a linchpin of the Obama administration’s formula – most especially when it comes to operations in Africa….


The US is also ramping up missions in its near abroad. Since its founding, the United States has often intervened throughout the Caribbean and Latin America. During the Bush years, with some notable exceptions, Washington’s interest in America’s “backyard” took a backseat to wars farther from home. Recently, however, the Obama administration has been ramping up operations south of the border using its new formula. This has meant Pentagon drone missions deep inside Mexico to aid that country’s battle against the drug cartels, while CIA agents and civilian operatives from the Department of Defence were dispatched to Mexican military bases to take part in the country’s drug war.

Read More: Al Jazeera

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